Final Dunbar High School Graduation – May 27, 1955

On May 27, 1955, on the stage of Robinson Auditorium, the Dunbar High School senior class graduated. This academic year marked not only the 25th anniversary of Dunbar’s opening, but it was the last year that the school building would offer junior high through junior college classes.

In the fall of 1955, the new Horace Mann High School would open. Dunbar would continue to be open, but only as a junior high.  (Though no reason was ever publicly given, the junior college component ended in May 1955.)

The new Mann High School was constructed, in part, as a way to delay any integration plans for the Little Rock School District.  With a new second all-white high school in the works for Little Rock, it was thought that a new African American school would placate the African-American community by not only giving them a new building, but relieving the overcrowding at Dunbar.

But on May 27, 1955, and the days leading up to it, the focus was on celebrating the final graduation class and the 25th anniversary of Dunbar High School.  On May 25, teachers who had taught for 25 years at the school, and original teachers who retired from the school were honored.

The school’s original principal, Dr. John H. Lewis, was the commencement speaker.  The current principal, Dr. L. W. Christophe presided over the awarding of the diplomas and announcements of scholarships.  Among the higher education institutions to which they received scholarships were the University of Michigan, Wiley College, Tennessee State, Arkansas AM&N, Talladega College, and Philander Smith College.

While the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat  both DID run stories on the graduation, it was hardly equal to the coverage they gave Central High School.  In fact, on the day after Dunbar’s graduation, the Democrat ran a photo of two Central graduates huddled under an umbrella in the rain – three days after the ceremony took place.

In 1971, Mann ceased its status as a high school as well.  Today, both Mann and Dunbar serve as middle schools within the Little Rock School District.

Little Rock Look Back: Final Graduation of Dunbar High School

On May 27, 1955, on the stage of Robinson Auditorium, the Dunbar High School senior class graduated. This academic year marked not only the 25th anniversary of Dunbar’s opening, but it was the last year that the school building would offer junior high through junior college classes.

In the fall of 1955, the new Horace Mann High School would open. Dunbar would continue to be open, but only as a junior high.  (Though no reason was given, the junior college component ended in May 1955.)

The new Mann High School was constructed, in part, as a way to delay any integration plans for the Little Rock School District.  With a new second all-white high school in the works for Little Rock, it was thought that a new African American school would placate the African-American community by not only giving them a new building, but relieving the overcrowding at Dunbar.

But on May 27, 1955, and the days leading up to it, the focus was on celebrating the final graduation class and the 25th anniversary of Dunbar High School.  On May 25, teachers who had taught for 25 years at the school, and original teachers who retired from the school were honored.

The school’s original principal, Dr. John H. Lewis, was the commencement speaker.  The current principal, Dr. L. W. Christophe presided over the awarding of the diplomas and announcements of scholarships.  Among the higher education institutions to which they received scholarships were the University of Michigan, Wiley College, Tennessee State, Arkansas AM&N, Talladega College, and Philander Smith College.

While the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat  both DID run stories on the graduation, it was hardly equal to the coverage they gave Central High School.  In fact, on the day after Dunbar’s graduation, the Democrat ran a photo of two Central graduates huddled under an umbrella in the rain – three days after the ceremony took place.

In 1971, Mann ceased its status as a high school as well.  Today, both Mann and Dunbar serve as middle schools within the Little Rock School District.

Turkey Day Football – Dunbar & later Mann take on Jones High

Mann High School takes on Jones High in 1962

Mann High School takes on Jones High in 1962

From the 1930s to the early 1960s, Thanksgiving Day high school football in Arkansas was the time for big rivals to meet.  In addition to Little Rock playing NLR (later morphing into Central playing Hall), many a Thanksgiving Day schedule involved seeing Jonesboro face off against Paragould or El Dorado play Camden. Fayetteville vs. Springdale, Morrilton vs. Conway, Newport vs. Batesville, and DeQueen vs. Texarkana were all longtime traditions.

In these days, football classifications were much more fluid.  It would not be until the 1960s that the Arkansas Activities Association would permanently institute state playoffs in football.  This led to the demise of Thanksgiving Day games throughout the state.  Either the schools were not in the same classification and/or they were in a classification that had playoffs starting in mid-November.  Gone were the days when a regular football season extended from September to Thanksgiving.

The two exceptions to this were the largest classification of schools and the segregated African American schools.  The largest class, which eventually became known as the AAAAA (it had previously been the Big 6, 8, 9–whatever number of schools were in it), had few enough members that they were all in one conference.  A conference championship was tantamount to a state championship.

The African American schools were ignored in athletics as they were in other areas.  While the schools fielded teams and played each other, they did not have playoffs or Arkansas Activities Association recognized championships.  Up through the late 1950s, a mention of their games in the Arkansas Gazette or Arkansas Democrat was rare.

For several years, Little Rock’s Dunbar High School Bearcats took on the Scipio Jones Dragons of North Little Rock on Thanksgiving Day.  Due to the lack of coverage in newspapers, there are few records of these games.  Unfortunately the yearbooks of neither school shed any light. Due to limited budgets which led to thinner yearbooks, the football team usually got one page that was devoted to showing the players and left no room for details about their exploits on the gridiron.

In the 1955-1956 school year, Little Rock opened a new high school for African American students – Horace Mann High School. The Bearcat mascot of Dunbar (now a junior high) became the new Horace Mann mascot.  Mann carried on the tradition of playing Jones on Thanksgiving.

Many seasons the African American LR-NLR football game was the second meeting of the two teams.  They usually played against each other in September and then again on Thanksgiving.  This second game seems to have been as much about ensuring that their students, fans, and alumni had the chance to have a Thanksgiving Day game – just as most white schools throughout the state had.

Due to the lack of African American high schools fielding football teams in Arkansas, often the LR and NLR schools would also play out-of-state teams.  While it was not unusual for Little Rock’s white high school to play teams from other states, this was because of prestige, not necessity.  The same luxury was not afforded African American schools.  In 1963, for instance, Horace Mann played teams from Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas.  Their in-state rivals that year were segregated schools in North Little Rock, El Dorado, Pine Bluff (two schools), Camden, Hope, Hot Springs and Texarkana. Horace Mann’s travel schedule was much more extensive than either Central or Hall had on a weekly basis.

From 1956 through 1965, Mann and Jones met at Wildcat Stadium. After that season, the Thanksgiving game would alternate between Wildcat and Quigley.  Since the Central v. Hall and NLR v. Catholic matchups were in the morning, the Mann v. Jones games were afternoon affairs.

As the Little Rock School District was gradually integrating its high schools in the 1960s, the Mann vs. Jones game continued.   (Both school districts seemed to be more focused on the “deliberate” part of the Supreme Court directive than on the “speed” aspect.)   With the demise of Jones High in the spring of 1970, the Mann vs. Jones series ended.

Because of the lack of records of the Dunbar games, here is the breakdown only of the Mann games.  In the fourteen Mann vs. Jones games, Horace Mann won ten of the outings, while Jones captured four.  The Bearcats shut out the Dragons twice, while NLR only once blanked LR.  Horace Mann scored 332 points over the fourteen Thanksgiving games to Scipio Jones’s 126 points.

 

Horace Mann Scipio Jones
1956 14 0
1957 27 13
1958 0 13
1959 40 7
1960 45 0
1961 31 6
1962 31 18
1963 14 20
1964 27 6
1965 51 9
1966 20 7
1967 13 14
1968 19 13
1969 8 19

 

Black History Month Spotlight – Horace Mann High School

Mann-SignThe new Arkansas Civil Rights History Audio Tour was launched in November 2015. Produced by the City of Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock allows the many places and stories of the City’s Civil Rights history to come to life an interactive tour.  This month, during Black History Month, the Culture Vulture looks at some of the stops on this tour which focus on African American history.

Horace Mann Senior High School opened in 1956 as one of two new Little Rock public high schools, after the 1954 U. S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision. Mann was built in the predominantly black eastern part of Little Rock, while Hall High was in a predominantly affluent and white western area of residence. This plan ensured that, in practical terms, both schools would remain racially segregated. The assignment of an all-black teaching faculty to Mann and an all-white teaching faculty to Hall underscored this intent.

After Mann was built, the school board transferred black students from Dunbar High, the city’s existing segregated black high school, to Mann. Dunbar then became a junior high school. Teachers were divided and reassigned, new principals were named, and the school mascots respectively became the “Dunbar Bobcats” and the “Horace Mann Bearcats.” The schools are now Horace Mann Arts and Science Magnet Middle School and the Dunbar International Studies Magnet Middle School. In 2012, both alumni groups combined to form the National Dunbar Horace Mann Alumni Association.

The app, funded by a generous grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, was a collaboration among UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, with assistance from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Black History Month Spotlight – Dunbar High School

dunbarimage2The new Arkansas Civil Rights History Audio Tour was launched in November 2015. Produced by the City of Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock allows the many places and stories of the City’s Civil Rights history to come to life an interactive tour.  This month, during Black History Month, the Culture Vulture looks at some of the stops on this tour which focus on African American history.

After Little Rock High School (now Central High School) was completed in 1927, the building of Paul Laurence Dunbar High School was completed in 1929.  Money came from the Rosenwald Fund, founded by Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, and from local black residents.  Local blacks insisted on adding college preparatory classes to the vocational-industrial ones that were offered in black schools at the time. The building, modeled after the white high school, housed grades seven through twelve plus a junior college.  Black students came from all over Arkansas to take advantage of its educational opportunities.

When Horace Mann High School opened as a segregated school in 1956, Dunbar became a junior high school. A Dunbar-Mann Alumni Association, whose members live throughout the country, still helps to support both schools.  In the 1930s, Charlotte Andrews Stephens, the first black public school teacher in Little Rock, was on the faculty at Dunbar, completing seventy years of teaching with the district.  In the 1940s, Sue Cowan Williams, English Department chair, lost her job when she sued the Little Rock School District for equal pay for black and white teachers.

The app, funded by a generous grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, was a collaboration among UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, with assistance from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Heritage Month – Paul Laurence Dunbar High School

dunbarNow known as Dunbar Middle School, this building originally house students from junior high to junior college.  For years the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School was known throughout Arkansas and the south as an outstanding school for African American students.

From 1929 until 1955, Dunbar High School provided a high-quality education for African American students, not only within Little Rock but also from far-reaching corners of the state.   Today the National Dunbar Alumni Association is a well-organized network of former students with active chapters throughout the United States. 

The school is located in a residential area south of downtown Little Rock. George H. Wittenburg and Lawson L. Delony designed the edifice, built on a southeast-northwest axis. Both architects contributed to the design of Little Rock Central High School (1927; listed on the National Register in 1977), which is nine blocks west of Dunbar.

Dunbar was designed to accommodate an academic curriculum as well as the more traditional vocational programs often considered the limit of education for blacks. In 1980, Dunbar Junior and Senior High School and Junior College was listed on the National Register.

The significance of Dunbar Junior High School derives both from the unique place it occupies in the history of education in Arkansas and from the modern architectural concepts with which it was designed. Dunbar was a center of quality education for black Arkansans in the state’s segregated public school system, functioning as a junior high school, high school, and junior college until its last high-school and junior-college classes graduated in 1955.

It had further distinction as one of only two industrial arts schools in the south to attain junior college rating, also in 1931-1932, as well as the recognition and acceptance of the Dunbar curriculum as the basis for admission to colleges and universities throughout the United States. In 1943 the school was involved in a controversy concerning equal pay for black and white teachers in the Little Rock School System, which was resolved in Morris v. Williams, 149 F. 2d 703, heard before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This was a landmark case in establishing the principle of “equal pay based on professional qualifications and services rendered.”

The architects’ achievement in designing an architecturally eminent setting for this progressive passage in Arkansas history is also noteworthy. With an eye toward form following function, the plan of the building promotes maximum use of space and expedient circulation. Aesthetically, the building is decidedly modern, with decorative brick and stone work and striking towers reflecting an interest in the Art Deco style of the period.